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United States occupation of Nicaragua
Part of the Banana Wars
Sandino's Flag. Nicaragua, 1932. (Marine Corps)-EXACT DATE SHOT UNKNOWN-NARA FILE -- 127-N-516038-WAR and CONFLICT BOOK -- 376 HD-SN-99-02035.jpg
United States Marines with the captured flag of Augusto César Sandino in 1932.
Date1912 - 1933
Result Nicaragua occupied; Great Depression marks US Troop withdrawal (1933), change of regime in Nicaragua.
 United States Sandinistas
Commanders and leaders
 United States William Henry Hudson Southerland
Smedley Butler
Augusto César Sandino
Benjamín Zeledón

The United States occupation of Nicaragua was part of the larger conflict known as the Banana Wars. The formal occupation began in 1912, although several other operations were conducted before the full-scale invasion. United States military interventions in Nicaragua were intended to prevent the construction of the Nicaraguan Canal by any nation but the United States. Nicaragua assumed a quasi-protectorate status under the 1916 Chamorro-Bryan Treaty. The occupation ended as Augusto C. Sandino, a Nicaraguan revolutionary, led guerrilla armies against U.S. troops. The onset of the Great Depression made it costly for the U.S. government to maintain the occupation so a withdrawal was ordered in 1933.


Estrada’s rebellion

In 1909 Nicaraguan President José Santos Zelaya of the Liberal Party faced opposition from the Conservative Party, led by governor Juan José Estrada of Bluefields who received support from the U.S. government. The United States had limited military presence in Nicaragua, having only one patrolling U.S. Navy ship off the coast of Bluefields, in order to protect the lives and interests of American citizens who lived there. The Conservative Party sought to overthrow Zelaya which led to Estrada's rebellion in December 1909. Two Americans, Leonard Groce and Lee Roy Cannon, were captured and indicted for allegedly joining the rebellion and the laying of mines. Zelaya ordered the execution of the two Americans, which severed U.S. relations.[1][2] The forces of Chamorro and Nicaraguan General Juan Estrada, each leading conservative revolts against Zelaya's government, had captured three small towns on the border with Costa Rica and were fomenting open rebellion in the capital of Managua.[3] U.S. Naval warships that had been waiting off Mexico and Costa Rica moved into position.[4] The protected cruisers USS Des Moines (CL-17), USS Tacoma (CL-20), and collier USS Hannibal (AG-1) lay in the harbor at Bluefields, Nicaragua on the Atlantic coast with USS Prairie (AD-5) en route for Colón, Panama, with 700 marines. On December 12, 1909, Albany with 280 bluejackets and the gunboat USS Yorktown (PG-1) with 155, arrived at Corinto, Nicaragua, to join the gunboat USS Vicksburg (PG-11) with her crew of 155 to protect American citizens and property on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua.[5][6][7][8]

Map of Nicaragua

Zelaya resigned on December 14, 1909,[9] and his hand-picked successor, Jose Madriz, was elected by unanimous vote of the liberal Nicaraguan national assembly on December 20, 1909. U.S. Secretary of State Philander C. Knox admonished that the United States would not resume diplomatic relations with Nicaragua until Madriz demonstrated that his was a "responsible government...prepared to make reparations for the wrongs" done to American citizens.[10][11] His request for asylum granted by Mexico, Zelaya was escorted by armed guard to the Mexican gunboat General Guerrero and departed Corinto for Salina Cruz, Mexico, on the night of December 23, with Albany standing by but taking no action.[12][13][14] As the flagship of the Nicaraguan Expeditionary Squadron, under Admiral William W. Kimball, Albany spent the next five months in Central America, mostly at Corinto, maintaining U.S. neutrality in the ongoing rebellion, sometimes under criticism by the U.S. press and business interests that were displeased by Kimball's "friendly" attitude toward the liberal Madriz administration.[15][16][17] By mid-March 1909, the insurgency led by Estrada and Chamarro was seemingly collapsed and with the apparent and unexpected strength of Madriz, the U.S. Nicaraguan Expeditionary Squadron completed its withdrawal from Nicaraguan waters.[18]

On May 27, 1910, U.S. Marine Corps Major Smedley Butler arrived on the coast of Nicaragua with 250 Marines, for the purpose of providing security in Bluefields. United States Secretary of State Philander C. Knox condemned Zelaya's actions, favoring Estrada. Zelaya succumbed to U.S. political pressure and fled the country, leaving José Madriz as his successor. Madriz in turn had to face an advance by the reinvigorated eastern rebel forces, which ultimately led to his resignation. In August 1910, Juan Estrada became president of Nicaragua with the official recognition of the United States.[19]

Mena's rebellion

Estrada’s administration allowed President William Howard Taft and Secretary of State Philander C. Knox to apply the Dollar Diplomacy or "dollars for bullets" policy. The goal was to undermine European financial strength in the region, which threatened American interests to construct a canal in the isthmus, and also to protect American private investment in the development of Nicaragua's natural resources. The policy opened the door for American banks to lend money to the Nicaraguan government, ensuring United States control over the country's finances. By 1912 the ongoing political conflict in Nicaragua between the liberal and conservative factions had deteriorated to the point that U.S. investments under President Taft's Dollar Diplomacy including substantial loans to the fragile coalition government of conservative President Juan José Estrada were in jeopardy. Minister of War General Luis Mena forced Estrada to resign. He was replaced by his vice president, the conservative Adolfo Díaz.[20]

Díaz’s connection with the United States led to a decline in his popularity in Nicaragua. Nationalistic sentiments arose in the Nicaraguan military, including Luis Mena, the Secretary of War. Mena managed to gain the support of the National Assembly, accusing Díaz of “selling out the nation to New York bankers”. Díaz asked the U.S. government for help, as Mena’s opposition turned into rebellion. Knox appealed to president Taft for military intervention, arguing that the Nicaraguan railway from Corinto to Granada was threatened, interfering with U.S. interests.[21]

In mid-1912 Mena persuaded the Nicaraguan national assembly to name him successor to Díaz when Díaz's term expired in 1913. When the United States refused to recognize the Nicaraguan assembly's decision, Mena rebelled against the Díaz government. A force led by liberal General Benjamín Zeledón, with its stronghold at Masaya, quickly came to the aid of Mena, whose headquarters were at Granada. Díaz, relying on the U.S. government's traditional support of the Nicaraguan conservative faction, made clear that he could not guarantee the safety of U.S. persons and property in Nicaragua and requested U.S. intervention. In the first two weeks of August 1912, Mena and his forces captured steamers on Lakes Managua and Nicaragua that were owned by a railroad company managed by U.S. interests. Insurgents attacked the capital, Managua, subjecting it to a four-hour bombardment. U.S. minister George Wetzel cabled Washington to send U.S. troops to safeguard the U.S. legation.[22][23] At the time the revolution broke out, the Pacific Fleet gunboat USS Annapolis (PG-10) was on routine patrol off the west coast of Nicaragua. In the summer of 1912, 100 U.S. Marines arrived aboard the USS Annapolis. They were followed by Smedley Butler’s return from Panama with 350 Marines. The commander of the American forces was Admiral William Henry Hudson Southerland, joined by Colonel Joseph Henry Pendleton and 750 Marines. The main goal was securing the railroad from Corinto to Managua.

1912 occupation

On August 4, at the recommendation of the Nicaraguan president, a landing force of 100 bluejackets was dispatched from Annapolis to the capital, Managua, to protect American citizens and guard the U.S. legation during the insurgency. On the east coast of Nicaragua, the North Atlantic Fleet protected cruiser USS Tacoma (CL-20) was ordered to Bluefields, Nicaragua, where she arrived on August 6 and landed a force of 50 men to protect American lives and property. A force of 350 U.S. Marines shipped north on the collier USS Justin from the Canal Zone and disembarked at Managua to reinforce the legation guard on August 15, 1912. Under this backdrop, Denver and seven other ships from the Pacific Fleet arrived at Corinto, Nicaragua from late August to September 1912, under the command of Rear Admiral W.H.H. Southerland.[24][25] USS Denver (CL-16), commanded by Commander Thomas Washington arrived at Corinto on August 27, 1912, with 350 navy bluejackets and marines on board.[26] Admiral Southerland's priorities were to re-establish and safeguard the disrupted railway and cable lines between the principal port of Corinto and Managua, 70 miles to the southeast.[27][28]

USS Denver ship's landing force under Lt. A. B. Reed rests beside the Corinto, Nicaragua railroad line, 1912

On August 29, 1912, a landing force of 120 men from USS Denver, under the command of the ship's navigator, Lieutenant Allen B. Reed, landed at Corinto to protect the railway line running from Corinto to Managua and then south to Granada on the north shore of Lake Nicaragua. This landing party reembarked aboard ship October 24 and 25, 1912. One officer and 24 men were landed from the Denver at San Juan del Sur on the southern end of the Nicaraguan isthmus from August 30 to September 6, 1912, and from September 11 to 27, 1912 to protect the cable station, custom house and American interests.[29][30][31] Denver remained at San Juan del Sur to relay wireless messages from the other navy ships to and from Washington [32] until departing on September 30, for patrol duty.[33] On the morning of September 22, two battalions of marines and an artillery battery under Major Smedley Butler, U.S.M.C. had entered Granada, Nicaragua, where they were reinforced with the marine first battalion commanded by Colonel Joseph H. Pendleton, U.S.M.C.. General Mena, the primary instigator of the failed coup d'etat surrendered his 700 troops to Southerland and was deported to Panama.[34] Beginning on the morning of September 27 and continuing through October 1, Nicaraguan government forces bombarded Barranca and Coyotepe, two hills overlooking the all-important railway line at Masaya that Zeledón and about 550 of his men occupied, halfway between Managua and Granada. On October 2, Nicaraguan government troops loyal to President Diaz delivered a surrender ultimatum to Zelaydón, who refused. Rear Admiral Southerland realized that Nicaraguan government forces would not vanquish the insurgents by bombardment or infantry assault, and ordered the marine commanders to prepare to take the hills.[35][36] On October 3, Butler and his men, returning from the capture of Granada, pounded the hills with artillery throughout the day, with no response from the insurgents. In the pre-dawn hours of October 4, Butler's 250 marines began moving up the higher hill, Coyotepe, to converge with Pendletons's 600 marines and landing battalion of bluejackets from California. At the summit, the American forces seized the rebel's artillery and used it to route Zeledón's troops on Barranca across the valley. Zeledón and most of his troops had fled the previous day during the bombardment, many to Masaya, where Nicaraguan government troops captured or killed most of them, including Zeledón. With the insurgents driven from Masaya, Southerland ordered the occupation of Leon to stop any further interference with the U.S.-controlled railroad. On October 6, 1,000 bluejackets and marines, from the cruisers USS California, USS Colorado, and Denver led by Lieutenant Colonel Charles G. Long, U.S.M.C. captured the city of Leon, Nicaragua, the last stronghold of the insurgency.[37] The revolution of General Diaz was essentially over. On October 23, Southerland announced that but for the Nicaraguan elections in early November, he would withdraw most of the U.S. landing forces. At that point, peaceful conditions prevailed and nearly all of the embarked U.S. marines and bluejackets that had numbered approximately 2,350 at their peak, not including approximately 1,000 shipboard sailors, withdrew, leaving a legation guard of 100 marines in Managua.[35][36][38] Of the 1,100 members of the United States military that intervened in Nicaragua, thirty-seven were killed in action. With Díaz safely in the presidency of the country, the United States proceeded to withdraw the majority of its forces from Nicaraguan territory, leaving one hundred Marines to "protect the American legation in Managua".

The only American journalist who interviewed Sandino during this occupation was Carleton Beals of The Nation.[39]

Nominal force (1912-1925)

Second occupation (1926-1933)

See also


  1. The Citizen, Honesdale, PA December 1, 1909
  2. The New York Times, November 23, 1909
  3. The Ogden Standard, December 8, 1909
  4. The Ogden Standard, November 27, 1909
  5. The San Francisco Call, December 14, 1909
  6. The Hawaiian Star, December 13, 1909
  7. The San Francisco Call, December 15, 1909
  8. Los Angeles Herald, December 15, 1909
  9. [1] New York Tribune, December 17, 1909.
  10. New York Tribune, December 21, 1909
  11. The Los Angeles Herald December 21, 1909.
  12. The Pensacola Journal, December 17, 1909
  13. The Los Angeles Herald, December 26, 1909
  14. The Los Angeles Tribune, December 21, 1909
  15. The Salt Lake Tribune, January 14, 1910
  16. The Washington Herald, January 29, 1910
  17. Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy for the Fiscal Year 1910, p. 803
  18. The Marion Daily Mirror, March 16, 1910
  19. Langley, Lester D. (1983). The Banana Wars: An Inner History of American Empire, 1900-1934. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.
  20. Musicant, Ivan (1990). The Banana Wars: A History of United States Military Intervention in Latin America from the Spanish-American War to the Invasion of Panama. New York: MacMillan Publishing.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Nicaragua: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1993, edited by Tim Merrill
  23. The Banana Wars: United States Intervention in the Caribbean, 1898-1934, by Lester D. Langley, pp. 60-70
  24. Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy for 1912
  25. The Banana Wars: United States Intervention in the Caribbean, 1898-1934, by Lester D. Langley, p. 65
  26. El Paso Herald, August 29, 1912
  27. The War of 1898 and U.S. Interventions, 1898 to 1934: An Encyclopedia, by Benjamin Beede, p. 376
  28. The Washington Herald, August 27, 1912
  29. List of Expeditions 1901-1929, Navy Department Library, Navy History & Heritage Command
  30. El Paso Herald, August 30, 1912
  31. The New York Times, September 2, 1912
  32. The Washington Herald, September 1, 1912
  33. The New York Sun, October 1, 1912
  34. The San Francisco Call, October 7, 1912
  35. 35.0 35.1 The War of 1898 and U.S. Interventions, 1898 to 1934: An Encyclopedia, by Benjamin Beede, p. 376-377
  36. 36.0 36.1 The Banana Wars: United States Intervention in the Caribbean, 1898-1934, by Lester D. Langley, p. 69
  37. The San Francisco Call, October 6, 1912
  38. Sailors As Infantry in the U.S. Navy, The Navy Department Library
  39. "Our Century: The Twenties". December 23, 1999. [dead link]

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